The Freshman Leadership Academy is an organization for first-year SFA students composed of four different specialized SFA 101 classes that emphasize global and service leadership. While students are attending these classes, they are also required to participate in a collective service project that gives them the opportunity to get involved and build skills that demonstrate leadership. This semester, each class is doing a different project that will help local children in the foster care system.

Director of Multicultural Affairs Veronica Beavers’ class will be providing and collecting donations for Grace Manor, a foster care provider and adoption agency, for foster families.

Assistant Dean for Student Affairs Dr. Hollie Smith’s class will be taking a collection of comfort items such as toiletries, stuffed animals and socks. They will organize them into duffel bags and distribute them to the local foster children. They will be giving the bags out around Thanksgiving break.

Assistant Director of Student Engagement Saville Harris’ class will be making backpacks filled with personal hygiene items, blankets and school supplies. They are donating the bags to The Rainbow Room, which provides supplies for children who are taken away from their families before they are placed with a foster family and Azleway Children’s Services in Nacogdoches.

Director of Student Engagement Lacey Folsom’s class is creating college readiness bags for students in the system over the age of 14. They will get an SFA t-shirt and other items. There will be a folder full of SFA information and a FAQ sheet on how to complete the FAFSA as an independent student or as a member of the adoption/foster system.

“My family fostered children for years. I know for a fact that if those foster kids had shown up with their own bags, the transition for them would have been much smoother and easier for both the foster family and child,” said the co- president for Dr. Smith’s class, Caden Kutach, a biochemistry major from Bullard.

To find out more information about the system, the instructors invited guest speakers to the classes to share information about various needs for the children in foster care. They also brought in SFA staff members who directly work with incoming college students and state or private agencies that are helping these kids.

“As one of their instructors, it’s been very exciting to watch the students determine what they’re wanting to do and have a lot of passion behind it and work together,” said Folsom. “They only came together because they were in a class, not because they had a similar passion for this project or any project. So watching it grow and seeing them interact has been very exciting.”

The project was determined by the students at a retreat in September. The students all came up with topics, and they chose three or four that they would like to focus on. Each class then determines how they could help with that issue. The students vote again for the theme that will be picked for the semester, and helping kids in the foster/ adoption system was voted as the top choice because they felt it was a worthy cause with a need for action.

“We actually have some students that are in the academy who were part of the system,” said Folsom. “They shared some of their personal stories, and that helped connect it and make it real for a lot of the students.”

To fund the projects, students in the class volunteer at the SFA football game concession stands. The money they raise goes directly to the projects in each class. Starting this week, donation boxes will be placed in Steen, Kerr, Lodge, Hall 14, Landing and Hall 16 residence halls with a list of accepted donations.

“Our sole purpose is to lend a helping hand to those in need in our community alongside our passion to serve,” the co- president for Smith’s FLA class, Amanda Evans, a psychology major from Gilmer, said. “Serving as president with Caden Kutach has given me the fulfillment of a personal dream to help kids that are in a position that I have experienced first- hand.”

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